According to MyBroadband, Stellenbosch is planning to provide free Wi-Fi Internet access for everyone in the town, a service that will be offered free of charge without any need for registration.
Stellenbosch mayor Conrad Sidego has said that they are planning to make Stellenbosch a Wi-Fi town, an initiative by Stellenbosch, MXit and the University of Stellenbosch. While large downloads will be prohibited all other services like web surfing, messaging and VoIP services will be fully supported.
The trial network will go live on Friday 24th February according to Stellenbosch councillor and head of the municipality’s finance portfolio, Pieter Venter. This trial Wi-Fi network will cover the town centre, and will run for two to three weeks before extending the network to the greater Stellenbosch area. The next phase involves rolling out the network to all populated areas within the Stellenbosch municipality including Franschhoek and Pniel.
While the rollout period of just six months may be considered especially fast, Venter explained that the core Wi-Fi network is already in place and currently used to connect the municipal offices and carry municipal calls therefore cutting costs and limiting their reliance on Telkom. All that needs to be done at this point is to put repeaters on lamp poles and on suitable high sites closer to residents to “fill in” the network and boost coverage.
Venter explained that Stellenbosch has been wanting to provide a free Wi-Fi network for its residents for a few years now but Internet access costs (hence national and international bandwidth) was a problem. MXit stepped in to solve this problem by making their unused capacity available.
MXit CEO Alan Knott-Craig Jr. said that they are assisting with the Wi-Fi project at the request of the mayor. Knott-Craig says, “We are psyched to help promote Stellenbosch as the true tech capital of Africa. Although free Wi-Fi can never compete in performance with paid-for services, it does provide a magnet for creativity and engineers. Our primary value-add is the unused bandwidth coming into our data centre with 770 million messages a day requiring a fair amount of capacity.”
Venter has said that the MXit bandwidth will serve their initial needs, and hopes that organizations such as the University of Stellenbosch and SEACOM will also assist when the need arises for additional bandwidth. Venter highlighted that the reason for limiting the service to 1Mbps and a 500MB daily usage cap is because they have no intention of competing against paid-for broadband services like ADSL or 3G.
Venter is confident that this initiative will not only boost Internet access and the economy of Stellenbosch, but also attract entrepreneurs and technical people to the region.